The wise men offered Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold, because He is a king. Frankincense, because He is a priest. Myrrh for His burial.
With their gifts to the baby, the magi revealed the full mystery of the life of Christ, even while He lay in the manger. This baby reigns as God. He has consecrated Himself as High Priest of the human race. He will offer the sacrifice of His own death on the cross.
On Epiphany, we look forward to celebrating the full mystery of Christ, as the liturgical year unfolds before us. The pilgrim Church lives through the passing of time by celebrating the entire human life of the eternal Word, through our annual feasts and seasons of the full calendar year.
Let’s ask ourselves one question, on Epiphany, as the Christian liturgical year begins; let’s ask ourselves this: When we say “the mystery of the life of Christ,” what do we mean?
We’re not talking about a whodunnit mystery, to be sure. Nor are we talking about some kind of “mystification” of Jesus’ life, as if we Christians took it upon ourselves to add something gripping and theatrical to an otherwise unremarkable human life. No. We deal in facts, when we celebrate our Sacred Liturgy. Historical facts which, taken together, make up the “mystery” of Christ’s entire pilgrim life.
One particular fact must begin our explanation of what we mean by the “mystery” of Christ. Namely, Jesus’ utterly unique identity.
At every moment, many babies get born, all of them beloved of God. But among them all, Jesus alone is God made flesh.
A great mystery of faith, the Incarnation. But, as I said, not a mystification. Quite the opposite. God became man to de-mystify Himself, to reveal Himself to us. He took our human nature to Himself for a reason, a divine reason we can begin to grasp when we contemplate all the events of Christ’s life.
Why did God become man and live a human life? God did not suffer from boredom or loneliness. He hadn’t run out of cellphone data, and decided to become man in order to visit the Verizon store to get more.
No. He became incarnate for us. To save us. To give us hope, and a future beyond death. To show us why He made the universe in the first place: For us.
This divine reason–God’s unconquerable generosity and love–this divine reason for the Incarnation makes all the mysteries of Christ’s pilgrim life shine with their true meaning.
Did God need to learn how to speak Aramaic and read Hebrew? No. But Jesus learned how to speak and read in order to show us that learning to speak and read means something wonderful. It’s part of the way to heaven.
Did God need a table and chairs? So He became a carpenter to make them for Himself? No. Jesus became a carpenter to show us that daily hard work makes a part of the way to heaven.
Did God need friends or fame or loaves or fishes? No. But Jesus won friends and fame, multiplied loaves and fishes, worked other miracles, made enemies–and died at their hands–all for us. To open for us the great door that leads to God.
We love the baby Jesus, with His Mother and St. Joseph, with the animals and shepherds. When the Christmas season ends, we say goodbye to the crèche with sadness. But a true Christian can never be sentimental about Christmas.
On the eighth day of His life, they circumcised Him, and He shed the first drop of the Precious Blood He was born to shed. On the twelfth day of His life, the magi arrived, and one of them offered oil to anoint Him for burial. Christmas does not mean endless nicey-nice. Christmas marks the beginning of the mystery of God living a human life and dying a human death for us.
The mystery of Christ’s life must be a mystery because the final goal of His mission is so transcendent. If God became man solely to distribute Home-Depot gift cards, no mystery would surround the business. We’d get the gift cards, redeem them for some 2×4’s or gardening equipment, and be done with it.
But God became human so that we human beings could share the life of God. When we know that Jesus became man for that reason, grew up and worked for that reason, taught and healed the sick for that reason, instituted the sacraments, died, and rose again for that reason–when we study the events of the life of Christ as the mysteries of divine love that they are–then the idea of sharing the life of God becomes less and less mystifying. And more and more real.